Winston Churchill was right when he said that democracy is not a perfect system; but until we find a better one, it is the best we have. The pessimists in all countries, including USA and India (the largest democracies in the world), will keep complaining about the failure of the system. This is the easiest thing to do. Kotler, known as the father of modern marketing, prefers to be an optimist. He advocates that we keep trying to correct the system and make things better for everyone. For that, he goes back to his original training as an economist at the University of Chicago, under Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, and then, at MIT, under Nobel Laureates Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow.
Kotler brings ‘marketing thinking’ to improve the working of capitalism and democracy. Therefore, in this book of only 200 pages, he does not just list the 14 problems/interlocked challenges, but also suggests how we could find solutions for them. Kotler looks at democracy as a product and then analyses the strengths and weaknesses, the competitive systems, why and in which areas it no longer satisfies the needs of the consumer (citizen) and then suggests how we can work towards making the product (democracy) a winner in the marketplace.
Today, less than 60% of eligible voters vote in a presidential election (against a higher percentage in Belgium, Germany, etc).Over 96% of politicians are likely to stay in office. Since politicians desperately need money to run campaigns, many of them get money from the rich—for a price. The result: much of the legislation not only seeks to protect big fortunes but is designed to enlarge them. We have moved rapidly from being a democracy into an oligarchy or a plutocracy. And the weakening of democracy is reducing the capitalist system’s ability to produce benefits for the majority. Democracy is increasingly becoming an instrument to take care of the very rich—1% of the population.
Kotler lists 14 shortcomings in democracy such as low voter literacy, turnout and engagement; shortage of qualified visionary candidates; and two-party gridlock, etc. He analyses each of these and proffers solutions. It is a good start to save a system of governance, first initiated by Plato in The Republic—a government of the people, for the people, where only the ‘enlightened could vote or be elected’. This has been experimented in small communities (like in Vermont and New Hampshire in the US) where they met several times a year—and ran a government of - We the people, not We the Corporations! But this has changed everywhere else, because most democracies are ‘representative democracies’, not direct democracies. A very interesting comment on page 29 is: “In 2015, the League of Women Voters in USA cited three problems that are weakening democracy:
Congressional districts are drawn and gerrymandered to benefit self-serving politicians;
Access to voting is limited and, sometimes, denied;
Dark money is infiltrating elections so voters do not even know who is bankrolling the political messages that we see and hear.”
Does this seem familiar, for India and many other democracies, younger than the US? Kotler suggest some solutions—or at least solutions that can be debated. One example is: Governments, at all levels, must become more businesslike and transparent. Periodically, they should tell us what they have accomplished with the tax money. Another example: reduce election campaign period. UK limits advertising campaigns to 30 days. All candidates would benefit by not needing as much money.
There is much for the thinking Indian to learn from this book. Although Kotler mostly talks about the part failure of democracy in the US, much of what he says is applicable to India. India professes consumer protection, but the consumer courts have no staff—sometimes, not even any physical infrastructure. We want to look after the interests of the citizen but even minor legal cases can take 30 years to conclude because of the poor legal infrastructure. While Plato talked of an enlightened electorate, 60 years after independence, India still has a literacy level of less than 60%. And, yet, in August 2016, India is estimated to have the 7th highest number of richest people in the world. We may need to consciously target for improvement in per capita GDP, rather than total GDP. Just going after the latter can give a sense of complacency, when true change has not taken place at the ground level.
This book is a must-read for all thinking Indians. If it can be buttressed with a reading of the earlier book on capitalism, so much the better.